There are certain beers that stand out for me; despite having them time and time again I never tire of them and they hold a special place in my heart...or stomach if you were. Saison Dupont is one of those beers. It was the first Saison I ever tried and it opened my eyes to a style I didn’t even know existed. Light, fresh, effervescent and fantastically satisfying Saison quickly became one of my favorite beer styles. But alas, there weren’t many Saisons being made by American craft brewers...until recently.
Saison has been experiencing a bit of a growth period over the last couple years, and that’s a great thing for all of us. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the next big thing, though I’d like it to be, but it is gaining some traction. I recently sat down with a group of friends to try out six different Saisons, some old favorites, some I’d never had. The good news is that there’s a few American breweries that are creating some amazing beers that you’ve got to try.
I used Saison Dupont as my benchmark here. I love this beer, and likely always will. This beer pours a cloudy golden straw color and just looks fantastic. If you haven’t had a Saison before the smell might throw you off, it’s a little funky but don’t be scared. There’s a freshness to it that few other beers are able to capture. It’s earthy but light and has a nice fruitiness with an incredibly dry finish. The dry finish on this beer stood out more and more as I tried some other offerings. This isn’t a low alcohol beer at 6.5% but it tastes like one. There’s little if any lingering sweetness for the malt and it drinks very clean and crisp.
Notch Session Saison
Some of you have joked with us about being paid by Notch since we talk about their beer so much. I promise we’re not, we just think they make great beer. At 3.8% it’s the lowest abv of anything I tried by far. While this is an American offering it’s actually far closer to the original beers that were created to quench the thirst of Belgian farm workers. The workers were allowed 5 liters/day and, as such, low abv was a crucial component. This beer is very new and has quickly become a staple in my fridge. It’s light with subtle floral hop notes and then an amazing spiciness from the yeast. I served this up to 3 people that had never had a Saison before and everyone was blown away. At $4.25/22oz bomber its a bargain as well.
Pretty Things Jack D’Or
This was the beer that turned us on to Pretty Things and I still think it’s the best beer they make. This is by far the hoppiest of all the Saisons I tried, but it works. It’s a bit spicy, a bit peppery and a bit bitter. They key thing there is “a bit”; each component stands out but doesn’t overwhelm or dominate the flavor of the beer. At 6.5% abv it’s right in line with Saison Dupont, and like that beer there’s no indication that the abv is above that of a standard ale. I always forget how good this beer is. Every time I order it it somehow exceeds my expectations which is a peculiar but great thing.
Great Divide Collette
Of all the Saisons I tried this stood out as having a unique lemony flavor. It’s bright and fresh with nice notes of pepper and grass. I love that it comes in a 12oz bottle as well. While bombers and 750s are great sometimes you just want a single beer and this fits that bill. At 7.3% it’s a little higher on the abv side of things and if I’m honest as the beer warmed even slightly some malt sweetness started creeping through. I feel like if Great Divide pulled back just a tad on the alcohol this beer would be even better. That said this is still an amazing beer and you should go out and buy some. I had this with some grilled chicken, eggplant and summer squash and it was downright amazing.
The Not So Good
I’m rarely a stickler for style, I couldn’t care less about the distinction between Pale Ale or IPA as defined by IBUs, you can make up beer styles ‘til the cows come home, however, big boozy sweet Saisons just don’t do it for me. The thing I love about Saisons is their lightness, they cool you off on a hot Summer day. But both Avery and Sierra Nevada seem to have gone a different direction with their takes on the style.
Avery Eighteen Dry Hopped Rye Saison
I love rye beers, I love dry hopping and I love Saisons, so this should be perfect right? Sadly no. This beer smells sweet right away, which isn’t too surprising for a beer that’s 8.12%. For me the beer was just far too sweet; in comparison to everything else I was drinking it just feel thick and heavy. I was missing the subtle yeast flavors which seemed to get lost in the rye. It also lacked the carbonation that you’d expect from this style. On a different day perhaps I’d have a different opinion, perhaps a colder day with a heavier meal, but that’s not really what Saisons are about.
Sierra Nevada Ovila Saison
I’d heard some good things about this beer so my expectations were set high to begin with. There are some nice light citrus notes and subtle grassiness but there’s a sweetness I didn’t expect that made it fall flat for me. This was still quite a bit better than the Avery Eighteen, but just didn’t feel on the same par as the Pretty Things or Notch Session. I love Sierra Nevada as a brewery but this one just missed the mark a tad for me.